Who knew a film about a self-aware frozen fish could be so entertaining? This is exactly what CELUI QUI BRÛLE does: entertain. A breath of comedic fresh air, full of that color and energy that is so specific to North African countries by the sea, and on-the-nose dialogue that invites laughter as much as it demands reading between the lines ('Even the storks build their home in the city!' exclaims an agitated Lounes (Rachid Hadid) in one scene). This short is full of surprises.
CELUI QUI BRÛLE is a well-rounded metaphor for all the contradictions of a politically-unstable Algeria that refuses to surrender its African-esque hospitality and continues to invite the world to come in, have a cup of tea and explore, connect, understand.
The short by French director Slimane Bounia, starring French actress Sabrina Ouazani, is easy to mistake for a simple comedy centered around a fish on its way to a dining table. It goes beyond that and does so almost effortlessly. With beautiful cinematography, natural landscapes and the cityscape of Algiers almost drifting in and out of view, reminding viewers of the country's current ongoing grappling for peace, CELUI QUI BRÛLE implores viewers to a deeper introspection past its witty, tongue in cheek one-liners, over-dramatic spurts of melancholy and scatter-brained plot. Its musical score borrows heavily from Algerian and Western influences.
The star of this film is undeniably the frozen fish and its role as a metaphor for freedom while providing a fish-eye lens that allows the audience the opportunity to be fully immersed and perhaps even sympathetic of the arduous journey that makes it deserving of the spotlight.
Actors Salim Kechiouche (Rachid) and Sabrina Ouazani (Ounissa) shine here too with excellent, unassuming delivery that is relatable despite being occasionally over-the-top in a way that matches a style reminiscent of movies like OCEAN'S ELEVEN. Actor Rachid Hadid (Lounes) is there to also contribute a view on the emotional and mental state of the Algerian people through his sadness and disillusion with life; something many Africans in the grips of instability can deeply relate to even and especially while laughing about it.
All is not as it seems in this film and in its case this is exactly as it should be. Freedom and the myriad of possibilities that come with it is the main theme here: from the contrast between idyllic, sleepy seaside scenes to the dusty, almost cautious subdued Algiers; Ounissa chasing after a better life in Europe; Rachid aching to live out his American gangster fantasies, to the fish with its own just as important agenda to return to the sea, to normalcy and the predictability of the circle of life.
The pacing takes its eighteen minutes of screen time, delivers smoothly and transitions without a hitch all the way to the final credits. Editing and post-production give little hint that the entire film was shot in only nine days using a hand-held camera, and the casting works well with a slight undertone of performance arts - almost every line is impassioned and full of emotion. It is fitting that the fish finds its way back home through the efforts of a depressed Lounes; a call-to-arms for change that announces itself through scrambling and splashing for the both safe and perilous ocean. CELUI QUI BRÛLE is a beautifully executed film that is relatable despite its ludicrous plot and comedic take on life in an Algeria still on shaky legs, or in this case, tail fins.
by Agnes Atsuah
First published in iREP 2017 Newsletter - Issue 1, edited by Derin Ajao, with support of iRep FilmFest and Goethe-Institut Nigeria. Courtesy iREP.